Caring for our world and for our women
As world leaders, politicians and religious representatives gather in Glasgow, Scotland, for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), Lauren Westwood shares something of her personal social justice journey. With a scriptural focus on Psalm 8, Lauren reflects on how God equips and empowers to care for our planet and for each other:
When I was a child, I always had a messy bedroom. I’m not proud of it, but this is my truth! It started with a pile of well-loved toys, before some freshly washed and ironed clothes found their way into the mess and, before I knew it, there was hardly any floorspace visible.
It wasn’t that I enjoyed living in a state of chaos, or that I didn’t care. I simply never knew where to begin! Compare me to my younger sister who, when her room was getting untidy, had a system in place to sort it out before the problem took over. In the time it took Fleur to tidy her room, I was still stuck in the only tidy corner I could find, distracted by a small and insignificant task. I was overwhelmed with the sheer scale of the project. How could I think about tackling such a problem, when I couldn’t even choose where to begin?
Thankfully, I learned how to deal with this sort of problem some time ago, but those stunted and helpless feelings come flooding back when I think about the climate crisis. Many of us want to help heal our planet, but where do we start?
Like many others, one of the people who really got me thinking about the environment was the Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg. Incensed by how we were damaging the earth, she stood up to world leaders, scolding them for ‘stealing her dreams and childhood with their empty words’. No one expected Greta to have such an impact. After all, she was a teenage girl when she started her activism, and teenage girls are often the first to be labelled as dramatic. She also struggled with depression through childhood, before her diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome, OCD, and selective mutism.
Like Greta, we are not the most likely heroes. Reflect on this quote from the Bible Project: ‘Why would the creator of the universe choose to rule the world through the babbling cries of needy humans?’ I don’t know about you, but I have certainly felt like a needy human when thinking about God’s greatness. But doesn’t God show up in and through the unexpected, unassuming, unappealing moments of life? This is what Psalm 8 is all about.
Consider the context of Psalm 8. In Psalms 3-7, we hear David’s story of a powerless past preoccupied with hiding from his enemies. As the reader of these poems, we are invited to share in the desperation of David’s cries to God, pleading that he would be delivered and restored to a place of power and authority. Then, in Psalms 9-14, David is joined by a group of people referred to as the poor and afflicted ones. Like David, they are oppressed by powerful rulers, so they cry out to God. These people are viewed by the world as insignificant and powerless; they are characterised only by their weakness. And yet, they are the ones God has chosen to build his Kingdom on earth.
Psalm 8 shows us more of the upside-down, weak-become-strong vision God has for his creation. We are reminded of the ‘creative genius of God’ that glows above the earth: the stars and heavenly lights in all their majesty and beauty. Also in the creation story, God transformed humans from literal dirt to a position just a little lesser than the angels. After giving us the gift of life, God crowns us with honour and raises us to new heights of trust, love, and strength.
Have you ever looked up at the stars or the moon, or even seen a documentary about the planets, and felt an overwhelming insignificance in comparison to it all? I know I have. Why should God – who is above even the splendour of the stars and the wonder of the skies – care for us? God cares for us because his love redeems us, and he loves to empower the powerless! This theme paves the way for the Messiah. It all points to Jesus, the baby King born in the cattle shed. The presence of Christ means we need no longer feel insignificant in our weakness. Instead, in Jesus, our weakness becomes our power! When we can serve from a place of humility and lack of self, that’s when God’s Kingdom is most on display.
I think about such glimpses of God’s upside-down, topsy-turvy Kingdom when I consider the way our world views and treats women. The climate crisis and gender injustice go together: women and girls are among the most vulnerable to a deteriorating planet, but also some of our most needed problem-solvers. When we talk about the empowerment of women and girls, it isn’t about elevating them above others. It is about raising them from the dirt and mire that the world chooses to cover them with; recognising the strength, resilience and positive influence that is theirs, taking their concerns and anxieties seriously and responding with compassion, and encouraging others not to overlook them.
So, how can we do our bit in caring for our world and for our women and girls? We cannot separate climate justice from gender justice. We can recognise the scale of the problems and know that we cannot face them alone. There are pledges we can make: to shop ethically, to change our language, to eat less of one thing and more of another, to invite new voices to a space where decisions are being made. We can pray. I keep coming back to the truth God equips all people to take on great trials – no matter who they are.
My hope is that we will not become so overwhelmed with the darkness of the big picture problems that we never even begin to shed light in our small corners. As we prepare to fight against injustice, we cannot afford to lose sight of the truth that we need each other! Each of us has the holy potential to become a reflector of his light and goodness on earth: male and female, God created us as his image-bearers. Let us not be stifled by fear, but instead may we step out and make positive action in faith that others are working quietly alongside us.
Lauren Westwood works as part of the Communications and Women's Ministries sections at International Headquarters.
Brought up in The Salvation Army, Lauren now worships at Bromley Salvation Army with her husband, Karl. Lauren is passionate
about seeing women empowered in their walk with Jesus through prayer and the building of deep connection with one another.